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George Randell (1830–1915)

by G. C. Bolton

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George Randell (1830-1915), businessman and politician, was born on 5 October 1830 at Milton, Hampshire, England, son of James Randell, cordwainer, and his wife Jane. He married Jane Hyde on 8 April 1850, migrated to Western Australia and prospered quietly as a carpenter and mechanic, later becoming a produce merchant. In 1863, in partnership with Solomon Cook, he started the first regular steamship service on the Swan River, plying between Fremantle and Guildford; in 1876 he failed to prevent a proposal for a competing railway, and after the death of his second wife Mary Louisa, née Smith, whom he had married on 14 October 1869, he sold his shipping interests and in 1878 went to England. Returning in 1880, he reinvested in shipping and retained his interest at least until 1900, when the ferry and cruising trade had been boosted by the post-gold rush population.

Randell entered civic politics in 1870 as a member of the Perth Town Trust; he was chairman in 1874 and mayor in 1884-85. In 1875-77 he represented Perth in the Legislative Council and became a nominated member in 1880. He entered the first Legislative Assembly in 1890, representing Perth, and was chairman of committees from 1891 till he resigned his seat in 1892. Next year he was again nominated to the council. In June 1894 he returned to the assembly as member for Perth, and was elected leader of the Opposition but resigned after twelve months. In 1897 he did not seek re-election for Perth; he was elected to the council and in 1898 became government spokesman, colonial secretary and minister for education. He retired from these offices at the 1901 election but remained in the council until 1910.

For sixty years Randell was the mainstay of Perth's Congregational Church and held every lay office; Who Was Who, 1916, said of him, 'with the exception of the two years' visit to England, practically no recreation'; he advocated church disestablishment and secular education. A member of the Central Board of Education from 1871, he campaigned successfully in 1876 for the Perth High School, and in 1894-95 led the successful opponents of state aid to churches.

A self-made businessman, Randell distrusted government intervention especially where it involved money. Despite liberal attitudes on early closing and women's suffrage, he was notable as an inveterate defender of last ditches; cautious and conciliatory, he opposed responsible government, Forrest's developmental policies, and Newton Moore's programme of agricultural expansion. Yet he remained popular because of his sweet temper and reliability. A master of detail, he served on many select committees and royal commissions. In 1889 he originated the colony's first Act to regulate life assurance, and as minister for education he initiated the Claremont Teachers' Training College, the first in Western Australia. He was also president of the Perth Working Men's Association, chairman of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, a director of the Western Australian Bank and a trustee under the 1904 Act for the Endowment of a State University.

Predeceased by his third wife Lucy Jane James, née Francisco (d. 1897), whom he had married on 26 January 1881, and survived by five children, Randell died in Perth on 2 June 1915. His estate was sworn for probate at £18,094.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • In Memoriam: Booklet Issued at the Service of the Hon. George Randell, J.P. (Perth, 1915)
  • D. Mossenson, State Education in Western Australia (Perth, 1972)
  • West Australian, 29 Apr 1898, 3 June 1915.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Randell, George (1830–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 October, 1830
Milton, Hampshire, England


2 June, 1915 (aged 84)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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